Syria: Church Calls for the Lifting of Sanctions

February 08, 2021
Msgr. Ignace Youssef III Younan

In the Middle East, the Catholic hierarchy is asking the new tenant of the White House to lift as quickly as possible the sanctions that currently weigh on the Syrian people, at the risk of appearing to be an accomplice to the “humanitarian catastrophe” which is already affecting millions of people, and which will end up becoming a new factor of instability in the whole region.

“We urge you, Mr. President, to come to the aid of the Syrians by alleviating the humanitarian crisis which threatens to unleash a new wave of instability in the Middle East and beyond. We believe that the legitimate national interests of the United States can be pursued without punishing the Syrian people through the current economic sanctions.”

The address to the new head of the American executive branch was signed on January 21, 2021 by the highest Catholic authorities in Syria: the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Msgr. Ignace Youssef III Younan, and the Patriarch of Antioch of the Melkite Greeks, Msgr. Youssef Absi. The leader of the autocephalous Syro-Orthodox confession also joined in the demand for the lifting of international sanctions against Syria.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, the United States imposed a new set of particularly severe sanctions on Syria, under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. The Act aims to put pressure on the Bashar Al-Assad regime by sanctioning individuals, entities, or companies which maintain economic relations with Damascus.

The mechanism of the Caesar Act thus closely affects Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, as well as Egypt, which continue to trade with Syria.

In short, it is the American attempt to financially suffocate the Syrian regime to prevent it from rebuilding the country; but the impact on a worn out and ruined population tends in fact to prove to be more costly, and riskier in the medium term, than the expected political benefits.

In their letter to Donald Trump’s successor in the White House, the senior eastern prelates rely on a briefing note published on December 29 by the United Nations special reporter: Alena Douhan evoked the urgency of putting an end to the range of sanctions which “make the situation in Syria even more unsustainable, while the Covid-19 pandemic is raging.”

For the UN reporter there is no doubt that “the Caesar Act violates human rights, especially the rights of the Syrian people to housing, health, and an adequate standard of living and development.”

Not to mention the perverse effects that these sanctions can have on neighboring countries: in its January 20, 2021 edition, Le Monde wrote that “the shadow of Damascus” hangs over the terrible explosion in the port of Beirut, which occurred on August 4.

According to the French daily, it was not for nothing that the clandestine delivery of ammonium nitrate carried out in order to circumvent the embargo of an international community behind the United States was connected with the disaster which struck the Lebanese capital.

Will Joe Biden listen to the Syrian episcopate’s demands? Difficult to say: unlike the domestic political themes on which he wishes to wipe out the measures taken by Donald Trump, the new Democratic administration could well increase, outside, the pressure on Moscow’s allies, of which the Damascus regime is part.